MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Study Says “Divorce Grief” will Cause 1 in 8 Employees to Leave a Company

With the effects of divorce rates rising throughout lockdown expected to continue in 2021, a new study finds that 57% of UK employees who have gone through divorce or relationship separation felt they didn’t receive the support they needed from their employers.

Divorce has been found to create a period of ‘divorce grief’ which is impacting companies across the UK. Data from a recent study, conducted by specialist divorce lawyers Rayden Solicitors, found that employers were failing to offer the level of support needed.

In the worst cases, nearly 1 in every 8 employees will leave the company within a year of going through a divorce if their employer does not provide adequate support. This compares to 1 in 20 for those that did receive sufficient support.

This was particularly an issue in SMEs, where employees are 4 times more likely to leave the company within a year of going through a divorce than those working at a large company. 1 in 50 employees were let go by their employees within a year of a divorce.

The 2021 Divorce in the Workplace study asked employees from 133 UK companies who have been through a divorce or relationship separation how this impacted their ability to work, whether their workplace supported them sufficiently, and what more could be done to help others going through similar circumstances.

4 in every 5 UK employees who had been through divorce or relationship breakdown stated that it had an impact on their ability to work. The majority of these employees – 60% – stated that it impacted their mental health in the workplace, causing anxiety, depression, or stress. 42% went on to state that their company could have provided more psychological and mental health support.

The findings showed that employees struggling through divorce felt the implications of their separation in their working lives: 

  • The majority (60%) of UK workers who have gone through divorce or relationship separation stated that it impacted their mental health, causing anxiety, depression, or stress

  • 39% of UK workers reported decreased productivity caused by divorce or relationship separation

  • For 23% of UK workers, divorce or relationship separation caused them to take sick or unpaid leave

  • 15% of UK workers reported they made more errors or were involved in workplace accidents when going through divorce or relationship separation

Male employees are most vulnerable to negative impact

Both men and women in the UK felt the impact of their divorce followed them into the workplace. However, the data shows that male employees are more likely to be affected – 93% stated that their divorce or relationship breakdown had an effect on their ability to work, whereas 74% of female employees felt this impact.

Although women were overall less negatively affected in their work, for those whose divorce did impact their work, the effects were more widespread:

  • 54% stated that it affected their work, causing them anxiety, depression, or stress. This figure was 36% for male employees.

  • 35% of female employees stated that divorce and relationship separation led to decreased productivity. This figure was 24% for male employees.

  • 23% of female respondents required sick leave or unpaid leave from the workplace due to their divorce or separation.

HR support vs. no HR support – what effect does this have?

Support from HR departments pays back in the long run. Employees that felt they did not have sufficient support suffered further, as did their productivity. The negative implications of insufficient support for employees include:

  • Greater chance of leaving the company – 1 in 8 employees left the company within the year if their employers provided insufficient support during the divorce or separation. This compares to 1 in 20 of those that did have sufficient support.

  • More likely impact on ability to work – 76% of employees who did not have sufficient support felt work was impacted vs. 82% of employees who felt sufficiently supported.

  • Greater chance of decreased productivity – 42% of those who did not have sufficient support experienced lower productivity vs. 35% of those who did have support.

  • More likely to suffer from mental health issues – 62% of employees said it caused anxiety, depression, or stress vs. 58% of those who said they had sufficient support.

How can HR teams better support employees going through divorce?

Employees identified the following key areas for improvement in the workplace to ease the process of going through a divorce:

  • More support for mental wellbeing – 42% stated that their company could have provided more psychological and mental health support.

  • Greater potential for flexible working – 33% wanted more leeway on flexible working to attend separation proceedings and meetings.

  • Offer compassionate leave – 32% felt that an offer of compassionate leave would have better supported them.

  • Provide recommendations for external support – 27% wanted more simple recommendations for support organisations or separation counselling.

  • More privacy on the matter – 26% felt there was too much gossip from colleagues, and wanted better protection from HR to keep privacy.

  • Wider workplace culture improvements – 11% (1 in 9) UK employees stated that work pressure hindered the relationship and contributed to the divorce.

Commenting on the findings, Senior Partner at Rayden Solicitors Katherine Rayden, says:

“We might think of divorce as a very private and personal issue, but the truth is that going through a divorce is something that weighs down on every aspect of that person’s life. For those divorcing who might spend the majority of their daily lives in a job role, work life is no exception to this. Divorce will often be an emotional process, and it’s clear from this data that individuals’ work lives are negatively impacted by the emotional strain of divorce.  It seems that there is more that could be done by HR teams and workplaces to minimise the ripple effect of a divorce.

Employers need to be sensitive to the fact that divorce can affect their staff beyond their personal lives. Providing the appropriate support will put employees in a better position to cope with their divorce. It’s in the best interest of both the business and its people for employers to meet this need.”

Lina Mookerjee, senior accredited member of BACP, a consultant counsellor, psychotherapist and mindfulness facilitator, says:

“When facing a major life change through relationship breakdown, separation or divorce, this can create significant psychological stress. The stress response is designed for short periods but when experienced for six months and longer, it becomes known as chronic stress. The prolonged release of adrenaline and cortisol adversely impacts physical and psychological functioning, including the capacity to recover after illness and be resilient.

“Physically, there’s a greater propensity to feel rundown, tired, develop digestive issues, aches, pains and skin problems and generally feeling unwell. Psychologically, the capacity to focus, stay present and process information can become difficult.

“Coping mechanisms become relied on, including the overuse of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. As these are stressors, they help to perpetuate the relentless hamster wheel effect. It’s important employers and their HR teams recognise these emotional consequences and demonstrate their responsibility for vital care and nurture. Stress is not a sign of weakness but a sign of being human in need of support to regain their balance and equilibrium.”

Kirsten Keen, HR expert at Cluer HR, says:

“With most relationship breakdowns comes a huge amount of stress, hurt and heartbreak and from that breeds lack of concentration, low mood and even depression. All this is inevitably going to impact on a person’s ability to perform well in their role.

If that person is a valued, respected member of the business, it surely goes without saying that it’s therefore in the business’s interest to support that person through their difficult time – continuing to get the best from them and ultimately, retaining talent.

It can be as simple as being flexible – allowing employees to attend solicitor meetings and court hearings in work time, for example. Offering counselling services to staff – not just for issues that relate directly to work, but for personal issues, such as relationship breakdowns. Nurturing a culture whereby people talk about their homelife and are open about problems can also be helpful.

Yes, you might lose a bit of time by allowing them to attend solicitor appointments, for example, but if that helps to make them feel less stressed and get their life sorted, the employer will benefit in the long-run too – retaining an employee who can concentrate on their work, be more productive and who feels valued and understood!”